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Updated: November 1, 2012 20:41 IST

The BICYCLE COUPLE

Shilpa Nair Anand
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Pedalling fun Stuart and Anita Balkham. Photo: Thulasi Kakkat
The Hindu Pedalling fun Stuart and Anita Balkham. Photo: Thulasi Kakkat

Britons Stuart Balkham and Anita pedalled 5,000 km from the UK to Istanbul. In the city they found the traffic bicycle-friendly

It is ONE bicycle trip, the perfect chance to ‘forget about real life’ in Stuart Balkham’s words. For some it is the stuff of daydreams – this packing off into the unknown, literally and metaphorically. Englishman Stuart with his wife Anita made the dream trip. They cycled 5,000 km from the United Kingdom to Istanbul.

That they wanted to see the world, some part of the world, on bicycles was a given. Anita, a psychologist, got the idea from a friend while she was working in Sri Lanka. When Anita pitched the idea to Stuart he was sceptical. Eventually, not only did the architect plan the route he also built their cycles. They were looking at two options as far as the trip went – from North to South America or eastwards from Europe.

Seeing the world

“The plan was to cycle for a year, but we had to limit the trip to six months” because they have to go home and organise a music festival back home. To embark on such a trip one assumes that the couple was ‘superfit’ and super zealous cyclists. Stuart clarifies they weren’t either. They did, however, prepare for the trip with a “practice bicycle tour in Wales last October. And we kept telling each other ‘we should practise’ which never happened,” Stuart says. The trip itself turned out to be the practice. Flat terrain, for instance in Belgium and the Netherlands, helped them build stamina.

What Stuart and Anita have been doing can be called ‘slow tourism’. Stuart says, “This way we can experience a country. It is a good speed to travel and we meet locals. And it is free and healthy. Better than running from point A to point B.”

The journey they undertook saw them on a bicycle for close to four months. They camped in a tent, subsisted on bread and chocolate spread or cheese and kept their expenses to a bare minimum. They started their trip with 20 kg backpacks each but once they got to Turkey they sent back most of their things and travelled light with two eight kilo backpacks. The couple would start at around 7 a.m. before the day got hot and halt for the day before nightfall. They didn’t encounter too much bad weather except for the torrential rain in Germany and the Netherlands.

They would camp at campsites along the way. And one such camping experience gave them the fright of their lives.

They stopped in Budapest at night and were getting ready to call it a day when a vehicle came hurtling towards them and then left as mysteriously as it came. “To this day we do not know what happened. The person would have known we were there…strictly we hadn’t broken any rules but what if we were trespassing?” Stuart says of that scary night.

They have learnt a lot of things on this trip and one that amuses them most is their appetites. “We have become voracious eaters! We know that we work off all that with the cycling,” Stuart says.

They got off their bikes in Turkey and after a week spent there boarded a flight to India. In Kochi they stayed with Jimmy Varghese and his family before moving to his home stay Riveredge at Eroor. “We met Jimmy through Couch Surf.” And have enjoyed his hospitality and his wife’s cooking.

They are not sure if they will embark on such a trip any time in the distant future. But they do know that they want to explore their country on a bicycle.

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